An Introduction to Birdwatching with Biologys Marcy Brown Marsden

An Introduction to Birdwatching with Biologys Marcy Brown Marsden


The late winter, when birds are relatively quiet, is a good time to learn about them, according to UD's resident bird expert Associate Professor of Biology and Associate Dean of Constantin College Marcy Brown Marsden. This gives you a chance to research the birds you do see and find out what other birds might be around once spring arrives.

Brown Marsden, BS '91, who teaches a course on ornithology, is a member of Audubon's State Important Bird Areas scientific committee. She is currently researching habitat restoration for the black-capped vireo. Brown Marsden stays involved in the UD community by frequently leading nature and bird walks for students and alumni.

"Humans have been inspired by birds since antiquity: their songs and melodies have inspired music, their feathers and colors artwork; we describe them in metaphor and poetry. They've been domesticated and used in sport, and they provide valuable ecosystem services, jobs and recreational activities," said Brown Marsden.

Two of Brown Marsden's favorite birds native to the Dallas area are the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) and the painted bunting (Passerina ciris). The great blue heron is a good ambassador to the world of birds.

"They are conspicuous and readily identifiable even without binoculars, and offer interesting habits and behaviors to watch at length," said Brown Marsden.

In Brown Marsden's opinion, the painted bunting is one of the most beautiful species of birds found in Texas. It is a summer resident of the Irving area and is memorable for its bright blue, red, yellow and green color, its high, sweet song and its habit of perching high in trees.

When identifying birds, Brown Marsden suggests making note of five characteristics:

  1. Shape: This includes tail length, neck length and whether the bird is squat and rounded or long and tall.
  2. Size: Relative to its surroundings, how large is the bird? Is it sparrow-sized, jay-sized, crow-sized or larger?
  3. Song: What is the pattern of its song? Write down the phrases used by the bird to help you remember or identify it.
  4. Color: What is the dominant color? Are there patches, stripes or patterns of color? Note the bill color, eye color and leg color as well.
  5. Action: How did the bird behave? Did it fly in short bursts or in an undulating manner, or was its flight steady?

Online resources recommended by Brown Marsden to aid in bird identification are the Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds site, and Audubon's Online Guide to North American Birds.

PHOTO: Doug Janson


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